Oftentimes people think of portrait photography as static shots of a bored subject in a stuffy studio in some shopping mall. But this is a misconception, as truly great portrait photography raises a photo of a subject from a mere picture to a piece of art. But the overall artistic quality of a portrait photograph is directly tied to the ability and vision of the photographer.
Whether portrait photography is a career goal or merely a hobby, it’s important for the photographer to consider their overall style. What is going to set someone apart as a portrait photographer is how effectively he or she executes his or her vision during the shoot. And to take truly great portraits oftentimes the photographer must get out of his or her comfort zone and break a few rules.
How creatively a photographer can push the limits of style will, in the end, determine the quality of their portrait photographs.
1. Change Perspective
The rules of classic portrait photography dictate the camera should be at eye level to the subject, and oftentimes this is for the best. However, photographers never made their personal mark by always playing it safe.
Experimenting with high and low angles, shooting above and below the subject, these are great ways to skew the perspective and can often result in some truly great and artistic portrait shots.
2. Be Flexible With Eye Contact
Just as classic portrait photography has the camera at eye level, it usually has the subject looking into the lens as well. This is effective at creating a connection between subject and viewer, but there are other options as well.
Look off camera
When the subject focuses their attention outside the camera frame, the result is oftentimes a more candid photograph with elements of mystery. Stylistically this is very effective. And if the subject is showing emotion such as surprise or laughter it adds even more substance and character to the shot.
Look in the frame
The subject doesn’t necessarily need to look off camera in order to add depth and character to a shot; they can focus their attention on a person or object in the frame. Creating a relationship between the subject and another element in the frame – however minor – helps add a sense of story to the picture.
3. Experiment with Composition
It’s important for any photographer to understand the fundamentals of composition. It’s equally important for that photographer to break those rules on occasion. Doing so is just the sort of style-making, comfort-zone-abdicating method discussed above. The rule of thirds, for example, is a basic tenet of photography composition most beginners learn in the classroom on day one.
It encourages the photographer to break the image down into thirds both vertically and horizontally so it creates a grid in the frame. The photographer is then encouraged to frame their subject at intersecting points in the grid. By breaking this rule and frame the subject either in the exact center of the frame or at the very edge, the photographer can get some truly unique shots.
4. Utlize Lighting
Lighting is one of the most important factors in all of photography, and by experimenting with it the photographer can open up a world of stylistic possibilities. Side-lighting is one option that establishes mood through backlighting. And playing with these silhouettes can really add character to a subject.
Shooting with a slow sync flash (an option found on many modern digital cameras) provides unique results by using both the camera’s flash as well as long shutter speeds.
5. Take the Subject Out Of Their Comfort Zone
It’s often not enough for the photographer to push the limits; they need a hand from the subject as well. Getting the subject out of the studio and onto a natural landscape conducive to their personality is one way to go about this. Getting the subject to engage in fun activities, such as jumping, running or swimming, is another way to coax out more of their personality.
These are just a few things portrait photographers may want to consider when it comes to their artistic evolution. By taking these tips to heart the photographer should be able to effectively move past the confines of standard portrait photography and further their own style. The end result will be portraits with a stamp of individuality that the subject will be proud to hang on their wall.
Ken McDonald is a photography enthusiast who loves everything about digital cameras. Self confessed camera addict who has way too many camera lenses and photography accessories.